Foodborne illness, or food poisoning, strikes when someone eats food that is contaminated with organisms such as bacteria, viruses or parasites. Sometimes, food is contaminated before it reaches your plate during the process of growing, harvesting or transporting, or during slaughter or processing. Food can also be contaminated when it isn’t chilled promptly or cooked to the right temperature, allowing organisms to grow. Food poisoning can also strike when food isn’t handled properly, like when someone doesn’t wash his or her hands. Raw meat or poultry, which can harbor harmful bacteria, can also contaminate uncontaminated food like fresh produce if it’s not separated properly.
Salmonella, E-coli and Campylobacter are bacteria associated with the most cases of foodborne illness. The Norwalk virus is the virus most commonly associated with food poisoning. Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria, certain Clostridium types, including the one that causes botulism, hepatitis A and Trichinella spiralis are also causes of foodborne illness. Unwashed fruits and vegetables, raw or undercooked meat or poultry, raw shellfish and unpasteurized dairy products are the leading sources of food poisoning. When you eat contaminated food, bacteria, viruses or parasites can infect you and make you sick. And that’s when it can get dangerous.